Skin Alley

To Pagham & Beyond

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Skin Alley boldly announced their arrival with their eponymous debut in March 1970. Three months after it hit the shops, the group was back in the studio working on its follow-up. It was at this point that bandmember Thomas Crimble departed for Hawkwind, with ex-Atomic Rooster bassist/flutist Nick Graham taking his place. This shake-up in the lineup led to an equally momentous shift in sound, as the new-look band now moved toward a more improvisational style. Still, their influences hadn't changed, and their love of American blues was if anything even more evident on their second album, To Pagham & Beyond, than their first. The point was driven home on the opening track, "Big Brother Is Watching You," with its focus on the riff and wailing harmonica. This was a blues that fed into R&B and then rock & roll; "Easy to Lie," in contrast, exquisitely illustrated the links between the blues and jazz, the stripped-back blues suddenly exploding into inspired improvised jazz passages before fading back into minimalistic blues. "Sweaty Betty" takes the opposite approach, its pure jazz agilely slipping into revved-up R&B-flavored rock. As for R&B itself, "Walking in the Park" is not just a tribute to Stax, but a perfect rendition of its style, and explains just how the band landed on that label later in its career (the first white group to garner such an honor). Yet this was only one of Alley's angles; elsewhere in the set they travel into Canterbury territory, albeit in a tough fashion far removed from that scene's comparatively laid-back sound. And then there's the epic "Take Me to Your Leader's Daughter," the set's most inspired number, combining Arab-flavored passages, tribal drumming, and jazzy turns with stunning flute, piano, and brass solos. Amazingly, this inspired album elicited little notice at the time; it remains, however, a classic of the age, and sounds just as fresh today as when first released.

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